By all accounts, Disturbed had emerged as one of rock's shining new stars in just a very short time and while they were definitely on top of their game, the road to the band's third album Ten Thousand Fists was anything but an easy haul.
The biggest hurdle came in the form of a lineup change. The band parted ways with bassist Steve "Fuzz" Kmak not long after the completion of the second edition of their Music as a Weapon tour. The spot remained vacant for the better part of a year until the group found their new bassist in John Moyer, freshly free from early 2000s radio rockers Union Underground.
"He showed a lot of guts," singer David Draiman said of Moyer to Launch at the time. "He came to the tryouts and waited in line with everybody else on his own dime without an invitation. That said a lot. That he knew the material and played it well said a lot. That we vibed well together onstage — you know, all those things involved, and when we added them up and compared them to the rest of the potential candidates, he won." Drummer Mike Wengren later told the Times Leader, "He stepped up and it's just been great. He's added a new found energy and excitement to the band. He's been a great player and we're gelling really well onstage together." But even with Moyer's addition, the band still had to get up to speed and it wasn't until their touring for Ten Thousand Fists that the bassist was confirmed as an official member.
The band started recording in early 2005 at Groovemaster Studios in their native Chicago with longtime producer Johnny K. While there was some sticking to what had worked prior, Disturbed expanded their musical palette with the Ten Thousand Fists album. From a musical standpoint, guitarist Dan Donegan welcomed the idea of incorporating guitar solos, while vocalist David Draiman pushed his vocals to include "some more Rob Halford-esque stuff."
Speaking about the inclusion of guitar solos, Donegan stated, "When we started writing, we went back to the basics of just kind of jamming out riffs. That brought us back to some of our influences. It made the songs seem like some of them could use guitar solos. We just thought we would expand on that. We're trying to contribute in our way bringing this element back to music."
While on the subject of influences, one of them was Dimebag Darrell, who was gunned down onstage in December 2004, just prior to the start of recording for the new album. The band played a benefit for the Dimebag Darrell Memorial Fund and made a dedication to Dime on the Ten Thousand Fists album. Donegan also stated that the focus on adding guitar solos was in part as a tribute to the late guitarist.
Lyrically, Disturbed went a little more political for Ten Thousand Fists, keeping the aggression in place but opening up to more lyrical themes with their third disc. In addition, the band found they had a growing fanbase in the military and penned the tracks "Forgiven" and "Overburdened" with soldiers in mind. "We have the utmost love and respect for the soldiers," said Draiman to Chart Attack. "We have friends who are soldiers, some of whom have died in the process of this conflict and many of them will play our music going into battle as a means of empowerment, or stripping of their fear. We couldn't be more proud. Never let it be misunderstood that because we are against war — which I always will be — that we are against those who fight."
As for the overall sound, Draiman would tell Billboard, "It seems to fuse the brutality and darkness of The Sickness with the added melodic nature and complexity of Believe. It's more aggressive than the last record, and at times, more aggressive than the first one."
On Sept. 20, 2005, the band released their Ten Thousand Fists album. The group began promotion by issuing the preview track "Guarded" in late June, but the song took off right out of the gate, reaching No. 7 on the Mainstream Rock chart. "'Guarded' was put out there to just whet everybody's appetite," said Draiman to Launch. "It's one of the more aggressive tracks on the record, just to remind everybody where we came from and who we are. Kind of give back to the core a little bit. It's a song that reflects what choosing this life forces certain people to do in a certain way — you have to remain guarded on a certain level."
That early success of the preview song did nothing to sway fans from "Stricken," meant to be the first single from the album. The track arrived a few weeks after "Guarded" and shot right up to No. 2 on the Mainstream Rock chart and also hit No. 13 Alternative. "Stricken" was one of the first songs ever in Disturbed's history to have a guitar solo and it's personal nature really connected with fans.
When it came time to film the video for the track, the group used an abandoned hospital for the shoot. The set may be recognizable to fans as the set from the classic horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street. Mike Wengren, in particular, shot some of his scenes in the boiler room where Freddy Krueger once toiled. "I was expecting to see some Freddy, for him to come out and kick my ass," laughed the drummer. "He didn't want to come out though. He's too scared. He's got the claws, but I've got drum sticks."
With two hits right off the bat, Disturbed turned to the relationship song "Just Stop" as their third single in early 2006. Draiman explained to Launch, "Ever been in a relationship situation where, for whatever reason, the other partner in the relationship is always trying to do things to make things more dramatic? For no good reason? And if they just relax and allow things to be and just grow and develop, that everything would be much happier and more peaceful. So that's the idea behind that song." "Just Stop" would shoot up to No. 4 on the Mainstream Rock chart, but their first chart-topper off the album was yet to come.
That would be the band's cover of the Genesis classic "Land of Confusion." David Draiman was initially against the idea of doing another cover song, but eventually came around. He told the Battle Creek Enquirer that he liked the idea of taking something that sounded nothing like Disturbed and trying to make it their own. As for the video, the band utilized hot director Todd McFarlane, who needed some time with his team to create the animations for the clip. "[This clip will be] a big view of the corporate world and how it all ties into just one big beast for me," said McFarlane to MTV. "That the world is run by one giant thing which is driven by greed and lust." As stated, fans embraced the song as it peaked at No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart, and the band enjoyed some minimal crossover success as well.
Disturbed, "Land of Confusion"
Finishing out the singles for the album was the live anthem and title track "Ten Thousand Fists," which dropped just before the end of 2006. "It signifies strength, unity, conviction, power and the exhilaration you feel when you get to see that at one of our shows," said Draiman. "It's one of my favorites and people know that I have an affinity for asking people to put their fists in the air and it's just, it's exhilaration to be able to see ten thousand raised fists or more." The track would go on to be one of their most popular live songs.
Disturbed, "Ten Thousand Fists"
Speaking of live, Disturbed truly became one of rock's top draws during their touring of Ten Thousand Fists. After a headlining tour with Ill Nino and 10 Years, the group saw themselves headlining the Jagermeister Music Tour, staging the third Music as a Weapon Tour and serving as de facto co-headliners with System of a Down on Ozzfest 2006 when Ozzy Osbourne played only a portion of the run. However, the band did have to cancel some dates when Draiman ran into vocal issues due to severe acid reflux, thus forcing him to re-examine how he approached life on the road.
Ten Thousand Fists became the band's second album to top the Billboard 200 Album chart and eventually went on to be certified platinum. It also turned out to be a key disc in the evolution of the band, laying the groundwork for their future. Draiman recently reflected with Loudwire, "That one was a very tough one for us because we were coming back with our new bass player at the time, John, and we had to kind of get over the whole letting Fuzz go thing and all the baggage that came with it and prove to the world that we're still here, we're still powerful and still gonna kick your ass. So Ten Thousand Fists was a statement of our enduring ability to knock doors down." Check out his full comments on the disc in the video below.